The National Hockey League officially released the schedule for the 2014-15 season. The Los Angeles Kings will enter the campaign as the defending champions for the second time in three years after beating the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final.
All of the basic tenets will remain the same for another season. All 30 teams will play a total of 82 games during the regular season. The division structure also stays true to the realignment prior to last season with two conferences featuring two divisions each.
The full schedule can be viewed at NHL.com.
|October 8, 2014||Season Begins|
|January 1, 2015||Chicago vs. Washington (Winter Classic)|
|January 24-25, 2015||All-Star Weekend|
|April 11, 2015||Final Day of Regular Season|
Two games will highlight the regular-season slate.
First, the seventh Winter Classic will take place in the nation's capital on New Year's Day. The Washington Capitals led by superstar sniper Alex Ovechkin will take on the Chicago Blackhawks in the league's annual outdoor showcase.
Both teams will be making their second appearance in the series. The Capitals beat the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road in 2011 while the Hawks came up short in a high-scoring game against the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field in 2009.
Blackhawks President and CEO John McDonough spoke about being chosen to take part in the marquee event (via Blackhawks.com):
“It’s an honor to be selected by the NHL to participate in the 2015 Winter Classic,” said Blackhawks President and CEO John McDonough. “This is another marquee event for the Blackhawks and we’re looking forward to spending New Year’s Day in our nation’s capital.”
David Kaplan of CSN Chicago is already looking forward to the popular 24/7 series on HBO:
The Blackhawks vs Capitals matchup in the 2015 NHL Winter Classic will be played at Nationals Park. 24/7 will be awesome TV.— David Kaplan (@thekapman) June 20, 2014
Chicago also took part in last season's Stadium Series. It scored a 5-1 win over Pittsburgh.
The Winter Classic is very important for the NHL, which is forced to battle with the NFL and NBA for the attention of mainstream sports fans during the winter months. It's the one thing that's produced consistently high reviews.
Then there's the return of the All-Star weekend on January 24-25 (via NHL.com). The 2013 game was cancelled due to the league's extended lockout and there wasn't one scheduled for 2014 due to the Winter Olympics.
The Columbus Blue Jackets were awarded the opportunity to host the game last November. The city was originally slated to welcome the league's best players before the lockout wiped the game out. The league decided to keep the commitment, just a couple years later than expected.
Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch passed along comments from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman about the decision:
We're thrilled to be here, and we wanted to let the city, the team and fans know that we're honoring the promise and we're excited to come. It was very important to us.
Along with the All-Star Game, the SuperSkills Competition is usually a highly entertaining event with at least a couple highlight-reel moments. The event as a whole won't match the Olympic hockey, of course, but it's a key stop on the road toward the playoffs.
Beyond those marquee games, the biggest question surrounds which teams will emerge as contenders during the course of the season.
Which team is the early 2015 Cup favorite?
The Kings are likely to get right back in the mix. The Rangers aren't as sure of a thing with an offseason that will probably feature numerous roster moves ahead. The Blackhawks, Penguins and Boston Bruins are among the other top teams on paper.
There are always a couple teams that join the elite group over the course of 82 games. Very little separates the middle group of teams, which means it all comes down to which ones can stay healthy and get a couple players to enjoy breakout campaigns.
Now that the schedule is out, the countdown to opening night can begin.